I’ve been doing some work for a company that is building a virtual holiday community. Not a community for virtual holidays, but a virtual community where folks might enjoy some of the social aspects of the winter holidays that they’d otherwise miss during Covidtide. It’s not just for Christmas; the site opened with a celebration of Diwali, with Indian dance lessons, meditation sessions, and fireworks. There are virtual restaurants—”bring your own everything”!—where friends might gather around a virtual table, with backgrounds simulating the restaurant’s decor, and pages of recipes from the cultures whose holidays are being celebrated.
My job has been to edit the text in the various sections—and, since I have some experience in writing them here, in editing the recipes that were contributed by the writers of each section. This isn’t cookbook-level editing; I’m not making and taste-testing each dish. I’m looking for spelling errors, making the format consistent from dish to dish, and reading with the eye of an average home cook to check for ambiguous or missing instructions. Call me crazy, but in a pastry recipe, I think there should be some indication of what to do with the dough after it’s prepared. Like, say, put it in the oven. And maybe tell me how long to leave it there, or how I should know when it’s time to take it out. I sent a lot of them back to the site-runners with notes like, “Ask for clarification…” or “Don’t put this up until we get the oven temperature!”
In one section, many of the recipes seemed extremely vague—the sort that might have been found on a tattered, grease-stained piece of paper handed down from somebody’s great-great-grandmother. And then, all of a sudden, there were several that were really detailed. Down to a listing of Nutrition Facts: how many calories per serving, how much sodium, and so on. The sort of thing virtually no home cook would include in a recipe, even if they had access to the information. The hairs on the back of my neck would have raised, if they weren’t too long for that sort of thing since I’m so overdue for a haircut.
I did some quick web searching and, sure enough, found the exact recipe on a well-respected cookery-instruction site. (I won’t say which one, but it rhymes with “Snood Let Jerk Plot Bomb.”) I did some searching on the next recipe, and it showed up on another site, too.
I sent the site-runner—my employer and friend—a heads-up that those couple of recipes should be pulled, and why. I kept searching. It turned out that every single one of the recipes in that section was found on another site. Even the vague ones. I was heartsick, and so was my friend.
So, of course, we’ve had all the recipes pulled, at least until we can check their contributors, and provide proper links to their sources. It’s sad, but it’s necessary, and it’s only right.
It’s not that I think recipes shouldn’t be shared. Heaven knows most recipe sites offer a way to save and print the ingredients and instructions. But if you end up sharing such a recipe, don’t do it without proper attribution. That’s just not cool. Food isn’t intellectual property, but the compilation of ingredient lists and instructions is. Even if the recipe was originally typed up from a tattered, grease-stained piece of paper handed down from somebody’s great-great-grandmother. Nana and Aunt Sylvia and the test cooks at ATK—they all deserve to be recognized. Credit where credit is due.